Tuesday, 24 November 2009

I Would Have Been A Communist...

At a recently held forum organised by the Socialist Party of Malaysia, one of the guest speaker, Muhammad Sabu of the Pan-Islamic Party of Malaysia (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia-PAS) said had he lived during the time of Karl Marx, he too would have been a communist! Most people would not expect someone from an Islamic party to say something like that expecially when communism is often considered a deviant anti-religious ideology. However for me, I can understand and accept that because I was and very much still a huge admirer of left-wing philosophy.

Growing up in the city (Petaling Jaya), my parents probably deserve lots of credit for not allowing me to think I was from a well-to-do family. In fact, I thought our family must have been quite poor because I very seldom got the chance to wear branded clothes and apparels unlike most of my classmates in school. Only when I went to a boarding school in Muar, Johore for the final two years in secondary school that I fully realised that my family was in fact quite rich and there are indeed many who are much less fortunate.

As I began to put these pieces of realities of life together, I recalled the images I often saw but never reflected upon, of the rich and poor in Petaling Jaya. Before the arrival of the great Khir Toyo, Petaling Jaya (and the entire state of Selangor) was filled with squatter settlements (kawasan rumah setinggan). Nearby my parents old house in SS7 Kelana Jaya, there were two such settlements. The one opposite the Subang Golf Club was most remarkable. Remarkable in the sense on the very same road, there were huge bungalows with an average of half-a-dozen cars parked inside. If there ever was a competition for the best image to illustrate the gap between the rich and poor in Malaysia, photos of this particular road would be a main contender. Here was where one could see the rich with all their opulence and the downtrodden poor living side-by-side.

When I was studying for my bachelor's degree, I started to read more serious writings. And one such works I was curious enough to read was Karl Marx's Das Kapital. Around the same time, I read about the struggles of Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi etc, while dwelling into the works of leftist Muslim thinkers like Syed Husin Alatas and Ali Shariati. I can't say I was truly inspired by what I read but it certainly persuaded me to entertain some revolutionary ideas. My visits to Pakistan and China later on made me realised more about the scope and gravity of income inequality and the brutal effects of capitalism in other societies.

Socialism is clearly the best economic ideology to best confront the growing gap between the rich and poor. But as some critics have said, socialism is a lousy and ineffective system simply because it operates on the naive assumption that man can overcome their own greed and selfish interests. Most socialist regimes in the past failed simply because their respective leaders weren't able to control their own desires. Instead of giving power back to the people, they installed themselves as the new ruling class and oppressed the very people they claimed to have championed.

My brief experience living in Finland however made me realised that human beings can in fact be conditioned to share what they have. The Finnish people, as well as citizens in other Scandinavian countries are very proud of their social welfare system that ensures no one is left too far behind in the economic ladder. Certainly, this is more Islamic than the ruthlessly selfish capitalist system.

On that note, just like Muhammad Sabu, I have no doubt that I too would have been a communist had I lived during Karl Marx's time. Marxism has many flaws, and socialist regimes past and present indeed are mired with numerous problems but it remains today the most potent rival to the evils of capitalism, and strangely perhaps, an important and strategic ally of Islamic movements.

Related article: Neo-Liberalism and the 'War on Terror' Industry, by Farish A.Noor